Local Politics

Four N.C. GOP Candidates Debate on TV

Posted April 15, 2008 9:12 p.m. EDT
Updated April 15, 2008 10:52 p.m. EDT

— Charlotte Mayor Pat McCrory took the bulk of criticism at a televised debate Tuesday night between him and three other Republican gubernatorial candidates who questioned his fiscal and immigration record while leading North Carolina's largest city.

"Mayor, you've got a pretty big target on your back these days," moderator David Crabtree said near the close of the hourlong debate at the WRAL-TV studios in Raleigh.

The focus on McCrory's mayoral history, particularly by Sen. Fred Smith of Clayton and former Supreme Court Justice Bob Orr, reflects both the perception that he is a leading candidate three weeks before the May 6 primary and that his past could turn into a weakness among likely conservative voters.

"There's no question that I am the true conservative in this race," Smith said.

The fourth candidate – Salisbury attorney Bill Graham – said he supports a temporary moratorium on the state's gasoline tax because prices have reached record highs and that it can be done without slowing down road construction.

"We have to realign our priorities," said Graham, who led a self-financed push to reduce the state's gasoline tax in 2006. "The state has got to tighten its belt."

Smith went after McCrory early in the debate, accusing him of increasing government spending in Charlotte at a rate of 10 percent a year.

"It's amazing to hear Pat talk about (how) he wants to cut government when he's the big mayor of the biggest city in North Carolina and has the highest tax burden," Smith argued.

McCrory retorted that he hasn't supported a property tax increase since becoming mayor in 1995 and pointed out that the combined city-county tax rate in Smith's hometown is higher than in Charlotte.

"This is what happens with state government," McCrory said. "They actually don't know what's happening out in county and city government throughout North Carolina."

Orr jumped in, arguing that Charlotte kept property rates lower because the city involuntarily annexes sections of Mecklenburg County every few years, taking in revenues from new residents and borrowing more money.

On illegal immigration, Orr repeated allegations he made last week that McCrory is taking undue credit for getting the Mecklenburg County sheriff to enter a training program to enforce federal immigration law.

"Pat's been talking tough in his campaign ads about immigration, but I don't think his record in Charlotte supports that," Orr said.

After attempting to rebut the charges, McCrory said he learned to take criticism while mayor and previously as a basketball referee.

"It is a little disconcerting that someone is more interested in attacking my record rather than stating their own. And that's the kind of politics we don't need," he said.

The GOP candidates have met at least 10 times to discuss issues. Several forums aired during live TV broadcasts, while others were recorded and shown later.

The two leading Democratic candidates, State Treasurer Richard Moore and Lt. Gov. Beverly Perdue, have clashed over the number of debates and forums to hold before the election. So far, they've met on TV four times.